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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Paperback – Nov 4 1986

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; later printing edition (Nov. 4 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140094385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140094381
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #359,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Neil Postman (1931–2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its Media Ecology program. He wrote more than twenty books.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From AudioFile

This McCluhanesque diatribe begins by observing that our present and future resemble the predictions in Brave New World more than those of 1984. Technology, in particular television, has shaped our politics, news, religion, education, every aspect of our world. Rigginbach's reading is a little too fast-paced for this material; furthermore, the material is not suited to an audio format. Why did the author allow his thought to be corrupted by allowing their promulgation through non-print media. In addition, the examples he cites are ten years old; this week's television better supports his conclusions. The message is valid, but the medium through which it's presented is flawed. S.F.W. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D Glover TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 5 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Neil Postman's scathing critique of the effects of television on American culture is hardly less applicable today than in the mid 80's when it was first published. In fact, with the advent of other potentially mentally debilitating electronic media like the internet, the message of "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is arguably more important then ever.

Postman's key point is that Aldous Huxley, not George Orwell, was right when he prophesied about how society would be controlled in the future (our present). Where Orwell envisioned "big brother" controlling thought and discourse with a strong-arm, dictatorial approach (which was and still is the case in many communist or dictator-run nations), Huxley saw that an even more powerful way to control the populace was through amusement and entertainment. If people can be effectively distracted with pleasure, they are even more effectively controlled than when they are subjects of a strict police state. In Orwell's world, their will always be a remnant of free-thinking rebels who refuse to submit. In Huxley's world, no one wants to rebel because conformity feels good.

This is a critique of electronic image media that takes the medium itself seriously as something that is not simply neutral. Most people or groups that have attempted to critique TV (and other media) usually remain in the realm of content, arguing that violence, language, sexual images, etc., are what is damaging to viewers. Postman has seen through this superficial buffet-item selection method of criticism and shown that the real danger is not what we are watching but that we are watching...the whole buffet is poisoned.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Cory Armand on Jan. 4 2004
Format: Paperback
I read this book in 2003 and it is more relevant today than ever. A masterfully written book that tells the story of the TV Generation's addiction and its consequences. The quality of the writing challenged me also.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Wesley A. Fryer on May 19 2004
Format: Paperback
I think author Neil Postman has a lot of valuable things to say and reflect on. Several years ago I read his book Technopoly, which, along with several other books and articles I read at the time, led me to present a session at the 2001 TCEA convention entitled, "Remember the Luddites: Asking Critical Questions about Educational Technology." Technopoly was published in 1993, but now I have gone back to Postman's 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death. It seems a bit dated, with the advent of the Internet and all the changes which have come as a result, but I found the book to be none-the-less quite relevant and worthwhile. His overall theme of how our society (esp in the US) is tending to become more and more focused on entertainment via multimedia has many implications not only in an educational arena, but also for everyday life-- in the way we set our priorities, and in the final analysis-- the ways we choose (hopefully intentionally) to spend our limited heartbeats. Those small choices day to day add up to have a considerably dramatic cumulative effect. And his point is well taken about our typical, cultural LACK of intentionality when it comes to our consumption of multimedia content-- esp. television programming.
In the May 2004 edition of Wired magazine, an article entitled "Watch This Way" documents a conversation between various moguls and pundits of our ever-growing entertainment industry. I found Yair Landau of Sony Picture's comment that "There are three basic human entertainment experiences that go back to the cave: storytelling, game-playing, and music" to be compelling. Author William Gibson added to this list of basic entertainment experiences "being part of the tribe.
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Format: Paperback
Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the 'medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility" (10). McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; Postman carries it one step further by demonstrating that the 'medium is the metaphor." He illustrates this by showing how the Cherokee Indians would communicate to multiple peoples separated by distance via smoke signals. While not knowing the nature of the discourse, Postman draws the inference that it probably did not contain philosophical argumentation because you cannot use smoke to do philosophy. The metaphor's form excludes the content (7). Postman illustrates this in the negative using the second commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. Wondering why God would make such a decree, Postman infers, "it is a strange injunction [second commandment] to include in part of one's ethical system unless its author assume a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture" (9, emphasis his).
This book is more relavant today than when it was first written. I live in a dorm and see people wasting their brains on video games (which I deem more dangerous than television). By the way, and I do not know how many reviewers caught this, Postman is not categorically bashing television. He notes how this has been a blessing in the lives of the elderly and the infirm. I thought this was a master stroke of sympathy and I commend him for it.
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